Saturday, March 1, 2008

St Jacobs, Ontario

St Jacobs, OntaroiSt Jacobs, Ontario is a community of about 2,000 on the Conestoga River just north of Kitchener-Waterloo. It is part of the Township of Woolwich (est. 1973, 2006 pop. 19,658), which includes Elmira with a population of about 10,000.

St Jacobs was founded in 1847 by Jacob C. Snider who built a sawmill, woolen mill and blacksmith shop. The surrounding area had been settled by immigrants from Germany and Mennonites from Pennsylvania and St Jacobs grew as an agricultural service centre. In 1880, it had a population of 500, which declined to 350 by 1900. The community grew very slowly after that.

location of St Jacobs, OntarioBy 1975, the mill and the last grocery store had closed. The Shantz family then opened a restaurant that became the catalyst for the unprecedented growth and development of St Jacobs. The Shantzes and their associates eventually bought, renovated or restored almost all of the commercial properties in the village and encouraged indigenous arts and crafts. For years, some tourists had come to see the old-order Mennonites who had come to town by horse and buggy to shop. The 20 new tourist-oriented businesses established between 1975 and 1983 made St Jacobs a thriving tourist destination.